NEW YORK -- Gennady Golovkin entered the ring to face unheralded Steve Rolls on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden well aware of what had transpired one week earlier when huge underdog Andy Ruiz Jr. pulled a massive upset by knocking out England's Anthony Joshua.
Rolls said all week that he was inspired by Ruiz's performance as he attempted to author his own monumental upset in the same ring, but GGG would have none of it.
Instead, Golovkin, the former unified middleweight world champion, scored a massive fourth-round knockout in their super middleweight bout contracted at 164 pounds before an announced crowd of 12,357.
Golovkin, one of boxing's biggest stars, was participating in his first nontitle fight since 2010 and returning from a nine-month layoff following his disputed majority decision loss to rival Canelo Alvarez. Their rematch cost Golovkin his unified middleweight title and ended his division-record-tying run of 20 consecutive defenses.
The fight against Rolls was something of new beginning for Golovkin, who was in his first fight with trainer Johnathon Banks after parting ways with longtime trainer Abel Sanchez. It also kicked off a six-fight, three-year, nine-figure deal with sports streaming service DAZN, which signed him after the expiration of his contract with HBO as the network exited from the boxing business at the end of last year.
Golovkin followed Alvarez to DAZN hoping to set up a third fight with him in September, and it is likely he will get it, although Alvarez's handlers at Golden Boy Promotions told ESPN earlier Saturday that they will sit down with Alvarez next week to go over their plans for his fall fight.
"I feel great. I feel like a new baby. Right now, I feel completely different because I came back to my knockout. I love knockouts, and I love New York. It was a great night all around," said Golovkin, who was saddled with a hugely controversial draw against Alvarez that most thought GGG won when the pair met for the first time, in 2017.
With Rolls violently dismissed, the question was, "Who's next?" The answer was as expected as the outcome of the fight.
"Everybody knows. The fans know who they want me to fight next," Golovkin said. "I'm ready for September. I'm ready for Canelo. Just bring him, just ask him. I'm ready. If you want big drama show, please tell him. I'm ready to bring back the big-drama show."
But does Golovkin believe the third fight will happen?
"I believe, because this is boxing. This is boxing business. Why not? The next fight will be amazing for us," Golovkin said. "I feel right now like the people's champ. It doesn't matter for me. I want to beat him, but [the belts don't] matter. I'm the people's champion."
From the outset, Golovkin went after Rolls (19-1, 10 KOs), 35, of Toronto, who was facing his first name opponent; Rolls hung in for a few rounds but ultimately could not take GGG's power.
Golovkin went to the body late in the first round and sunk in a hard left hook and then a left hook to the head that got Rolls' attention. Golovkin continued the same line of attack in the second round and landed clean punches, but Rolls landed his own clean shots, including a left hand that snapped Golovkin's head straight back.
Golovkin began to get closer and closer to Rolls in the fourth round.
Golovkin (39-1-1, 35 KOs), 37, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Santa Monica, California, backed Rolls up with a right hand and seemed to sense that he was hurt. He let his punches fly as Rolls looked to cover up and bob and weave to avoid the incoming salvo. But Golovkin eventually got in a massive left hook that landed on Rolls' chin and dropped him face first to the canvas. His eyes were glassy, but he tried to get up before eventually collapsing in a heap into the ropes; referee Steve Willis waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 9 seconds as the fans celebrated.
"He gave it a good go, a really good go, and he hurt GGG once in that second round," Rolls' promoter, Lou DiBella, said. "When you give it a go against a great fighter, you leave yourself open, and he got caught. I'm proud of him."
According to CompuBox statistics, Golovkin landed 62 of 223 punches (28 percent) and Rolls connected with 38 of 175 (22 percent). Banks said he was pleased with what he saw from GGG in their first fight together but said there is room for improvement.
"It's always good to get a knockout. I liked what I saw in the ring for the short amount of time we had in camp, but we can do better with a full camp," Banks said. "We're going in the right direction."
That direction is likely toward the third showdown with Alvarez.
On the undercard
• Super middleweight Ali Akhmedov (15-0, 11 KOs), 23, of Kazakhstan and promoted by Golovkin, stopped Marcus McDaniel (15-1, 2 KOs), 35, of New Orleans, with ease in the third round to win a vacant regional title. Akhmedov backed McDaniel into the ropes and landed several punches to drive him to the mat. McDaniel beat the count, but when he turned his back and walked away, referee Benjy Esteves stopped the fight at 1:41.
• Welterweight Brian Ceballo (9-0, 4 KOs), 25, a five-time New York Golden Gloves champion from Brooklyn, routed Bakhtiyar Eyubov (14-1-1, 12 KOs), 32, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Houston, in an action-packed fight. The judges had it 80-72, 79-73 and 78-74 for Ceballo, who stepped up in competition, looked sharp and pasted the slower, defensively deficient Eyubov with combinations. But Eyubov never stopped plowing forward looking for a big punch.
• Junior middleweight Israil Madrimov (3-0, 3 KOs), 24, a big-time prospect and former amateur standout from Uzbekistan, battered Norberto Gonzalez (24-13, 13 KOs), 38, of Mexico, in a one-sided sixth-round knockout. Gonzalez, in his second fight in eight days, was game, but when Madrimov, who fights out of Indio, California, rocked him in the sixth round and unloaded numerous follow-up punches, referee Shawn Clark stopped it at 49 seconds.
• Junior middleweight Charles Conwell (10-0, 7 KOs), 21, a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Cleveland, handily outpointed Courtney Pennington (12-3-3, 5 KOs), 32, of Brooklyn, to win a vacant regional title on scores of 97-92, 97-92 and 96-93. Pennington was docked a point for holding in the fifth round and suffered a cut over his right eye from a punch in the eighth round.
• Exciting middleweight prospect "White Chocolate" Nikita Ababiy (5-0, 5 KOs), 20, of Brooklyn, needed only 41 seconds to stop Juan Francisco Barajas (5-1, 3 KOs), 29, of Mexico, putting him away with a left to the body.